Surviving the Design Studio: 10 things to do when your design tutor is always critical negative. 

Here at “Surviving the Design Studio” I wanted to title this blog “What to do when your design tutor is a bit Psycho”. But, I thought better of it. Then I softened it a bit and thought I would title it “What to do when your Design tutor is kinda crazy.” But maybe those titles don’t really do anyone justice. Especially, those people with genuine mental illnesses or personality disorders.

Anyone who has graduated from an architecture school would  like to think they have had Psycho or crazy design tutors or leaders. You would be surprised to know some students think I am pretty crazy. But seriously we of the old Archi-school studio world all have our stories about the jumped on model, the swearing, the tantrums and all of this followed by all the students crying. Not to mention the cronyism and the sexcapades: Architecture school is not what it used to be. But the real problem is not so much the mental health of our design tutors or team leaders. The real problem is when the design tutor or project team leader is actually not that good at teaching design or mentoring our design skills.

Bad design tutors or teachers abound. They don’t neccesarily have to be an architect. Nor do they have to be working in academia. Yes, they could be running your design studio at Archi-school, or embedded in your practice studio. But, they could also be the project architect leading your team. They could be in any of the design fields, architecture, graphic design, interior design or even advertising.  Worse still they could even be a client. In other words a  client who thinks they no something about design.

Bad design tutors normally share a few common characteristics. The key site of contention is how they give, receive and foster criticism in the design studio.  Contrary opinions from week to week is a primary attribute of this type. Always critical negative about your work. So much so you wonder if they were actually your parents in a past life. Hence, you can never be right or never know if what you are designing is right.

Mismanaging your time during studio is another. The tutor has no respect about other people’s time and will mismanage your time if you let them. The night before the hand-in, tender or the pitch they will berate you for getting the smallest detail wrong and thus getting everything wrong. They will change their mind just before everything is due.  In studio’s they will humiliate you in front of the others (especially in the crits).  When this happens you will unfortunately perceive how their lackeys and acolytes will stand by and applaud.

Before you quit your studio or job or wallow in misery by reading DSM-5. Here are few ideas to help you cope with the design tutor, project leader or creative who cant actually teach design or effectively mentor you. The person who never has a good thing to say about your work.

1. Zero Tolerance Issues

Firstly, dont put up with bullies, racism or discrimination. Check your organisation or companie’s policy on these issues. Understand who the right person in your organisation is to talk to if you think this is happening to you. Don’t keep things to yourself. If there is a pattern of behaivour take notes and record these. If necessary seek legal advice. You have to protect yourself in the first instance.

Make sure you are not being set up to fail. 

2. Personality matters.

But more often than not things are more subtle than what is suggested above. If you are having differences with your design tutor. It could be about personality differences or maybe different learning styles. I think all students of architecture should be self aware enough to do a Myers-Briggs test and figure out where they are positioned. It is always helpful to know if you, or your team mates, are a INTJ or an ENTJ or whatever. It is a good ida to be self aware of other peoples personality types. Especially your design tutors, leaders and mentors. 

3. Culture

Your differences with your tutor may well be as a result of cultural differences. In the globalised education market and contemporary workforce this is more of a factor. You need to think about negotiation style in different cultures. What culture is your tutor or project leader from and how is this different from your own culture or sub-culture. Mannerisms, vocalisation, gestures, status, and even dress codes are all communicated differently, and mean different things, in different cultures.

Once you understand some of the differences between you and your tutor it will make it easier to work with them. 

4. Keep producing. 

You might hate your design team leader or tutor and hate the project and wonder why you picked that studio or job. But that is no reason to just close down. The first thing you need to do is to focus on your design and not procrastinate. Keep producing what you think the right solutions or possible options are for your design. Keep talking with your tutor no matter what you might think of them. If you hide a way or become to fearful to produce you will not get anywhere.

5. Do the work 

Then really important thing you need to listen to is if it seems like your tutor is continually nagging you to do more work, week after week after week. I would take that as a warning sign. As a design tutor I hate nagging postgrad architecture students to do more work. My tactic is to say it a few times and if it then doesn’t happen not to keep saying it (until the end of semester of course). By then it is too late. More often than not students fail design because they have not done enough work.

The best thing to  do that is to design, avoid procrastination, and design and redesign. Design confidence is built up via practice. Even if you think your work is awful there is nothing like learning how to polishing up a pig-dog (as we used to call bad designs at Archi school).

6. Listen 

Listen to what your tutor is saying about your design and your design processes. Is it reasonable? What is that they are suggesting? Do they have insights into the project or your own design processes that are valuable or helpful. Part of learning how to design is quickly, and I mean quickly, being able to take on board criticism, evaluate it and feed it into your design processes. If you can do this you will be ok. In fact if you can do this you don’t really need the bad design tutor or project team leader. Which leads to the next point.

7. Criticism

Good design tutors and project leaders create an atmosphere within the studio or the team where it is safe to criticise without fear or favour.  It’s probable, if you tutor is really bad, that whatever you do will be criticised. But if your experience is limited it is sometimes hard to figure out what to do. If you feel that your work is being unfairly criticised seek other opinions form your peers and friends. Create your own design crit circles and networks. Chat about it at lunchtime with your co-workers. Sharing the pain of unfair criticism gets you thinking about what is good and not good in relation to your design process.

8. Get help 

Who needs a design tutor when you have friends and all your friends are other architecture students or architects. Use your friends to try and sort out the good from the bad aspects of your design. Use them to help you judge what your tutor may or may not be saying to you.

9.Do the alternative design 

Do the alternative design either by stealth or in your head. Think about the things that will drive that overly controlling modernist parametric purist you are working for into a design rage. Build those elements into your design and then sit back and watch the fun when you turn up for the crit.

Producing the the alternative design is always a good way to test and explore your own design processes.

10. Remember it maybe not be you that is the problem 

Don’t let a bad tutor destroy your confidence. Protect and nurture your own sense of design, design skills, always try and improve your own design processes.

You should not rely on the good or bad opinion of a tutor or your star-architect employer to bolster your confidence. Work through the issues if tutor feedback is bad. The purpose of architecture school, or any school for that manner, is for your to develop confidence in your own abilities independently. Being overly reliant on tutors to give that to you is fine up to a point but at the end of the day you need to stand alone.

The best way to gain your own design confidence is to be responsible for your own design education. This is a life long process and no architecture school, or the star architect you are working for is going to give you that confidence.

 

 

 

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